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Age of Empires Online gets Autumn launch

Microsoft has confirmed that its first foray online with the Age of Empires franchise will launch this Autumn.

The popular 'build-a-city-from-scarce-resources-then kill-anyone-who-comes-near-it 'em up' set in various stages of human history will get a new 'freemium' version in the fourth quarter of 2010 and will follow the increasingly popular 'heroin dealer' model of games distribution. Unsurprisingly, it is to be called Age of Empires Online.

For those unfamiliar with the age-old system for the distribution of highly-addictive Class A narcotics, you give your potential punter the first taste for free, hope he becomes hopelessly hooked, and then charge increasingly outrageous rates for him to maintain his spiralling habit.

The free download will include game packs for Greek and Egyptian civilisations and extra packs can be added, once Microsoft has access to your bank account.

Microsoft announced to Eurogamer today that other additional content will include 'Pro Premium' upgrades which are custom built level 20 civilisations which will take all the work and many of the noob mistakes out building your own world from scratch.

It's not clear if online players who buy pre-built creations will be flagged, but no-one likes a twink and those not willing to put in the hours are bound to be ostracised by hard-core gamers.

It has also emerged that players will be able to by 'Empire Extras', which are 'vanity items' which players can add to their cities to make them 'unique', though we suspect Microsoft's interpretation of 'unique' might be different to ours.

Add-ons for the persistent online game will cost between $5 and $20 so you can expect the horror stories about parental credit cards being ravaged to feed under-aged players' addictions to start hitting the Internet days after the launch.

There will also be a paid-for retail version of the game which will include at least one premium upgrade and as-yet-unannounced 'unique bonus content'.

Microsoft has been accused of dumbing down the franchise for a younger online audience with cutesie cartoonish graphics and simplistic gameplay.